Wednesday, 5 November 2014


Stanthorpe, Qld.

To us thin-blooded lowlanders of the sub-tropics, the town of Stanthorpe and the surrounding Granite Belt offer the unfamiliar experience of cold weather, plus the attendant attractions of temperate fruits, vineyards and peculiar tourist phenomena such as “wine tourism”, “Christmas in July” and “Brass Monkey Month”. Stanthorpe is over 800m above sea level with a population around 5000. It is about 230km southwest of Brisbane, about 2½ hours drive. In a straight line the town is about 150km inland  and is as far south as the coastal resort town of Byron Bay in New South Wales. On any day of the year Stanthorpe, or nearby Applethorpe, will almost certainly record the lowest minimum temperature in Queensland. Stanthorpe claims the record for the lowest temperature ever recorded in the state at minus 10.6°C (+13°F).

The surrounding area is known as the Granite Belt; the name comes from the underlying granitic bedrock and abundant granite outcrops and boulders.  Ores of tin occur as accessory minerals to the granite and the name Stanthorpe (from stannum – the Latin word for tin) derives from the town’s early settlement as an alluvial tin-mining centre.  The well-known local national parks such as Girraween and Bald Rock have typical granitic peaks, extensive views, precariously balanced boulders, clear streams, and seasonal wildflowers.

 A road cycling trail from Stanthorpe to Ballandean (28 km) was recently developed by the Southern Downs Regional Council in consultation with Granite Belt Wine Country, the local tourism marketing organisation. The locals tell us that this is the beginning of a move into cycle tourism, with other road routes and mountain-bike trails to come. One might wonder about riders injudiciously combining wine tourism with cycling tourism, but apparently it’s not a problem yet, at least not on weekdays; during our stay we saw no other cyclists apart from children riding to school!

Our plan was to stay two days and assess two tourist motoring routes, Armistice Way (Tourist Drive 5 - 34km) and Highland Way (Tourist Drive 6 - 31km) as potential road cycling rides, and also to try out the new road cycling trail. The new road bike trail combines neatly with Highland Way for a trip from Stanthorpe to Ballandean and return. 

See the links to maps and itineraries for the drives and the brochure for the Stanthorpe to Ballandean cycling trail. My interactive map of the cycling trail is here.

The author's wife and fellow cyclist Jennifer

The distances given for the tourist drives (34km and 31 km) are driving distances for just the tourist routes themselves. Unsupported cyclists have to add on the necessary riding from home base to the start point of the drive and from the finish point back to home base. For us this extended the Armistice Way ride from 34km to 55km, and the combined Highland Way-road trail ride from 59km to 68km. Armistice Way follows Amiens Rd which is paved all the way and in good condition.  Weekday traffic in mid-July was very light, but may vary with the time of year, depending on tourist seasons and crop harvesting. The route involves some climbing. The elevation gain from lowest point to highest point is 163m, and the cumulative climb for the trip is 466m. Map and route profile is here. The day we rode, the Granite Belt declined to provide what we city dwellers think of as a typical winter’s day in this part of the world. The sky was not the clear blinding blue of the tourist brochures; rather the day was overcast and cold with occasional rain.  

Armistice Way passes through a mixture of picturesque country. At different stages there are dairy farms, forests, vineyards and orchards. The views of distant hills are pleasant rather than spectacular. We had chosen to ride in a clockwise direction, opposite to the direction described in the tourist drive brochure, mainly because the elevation profile suggested that the climbing was a little less arduous.  

The French place-names on the way refer to localities rather than towns; there are occasional schools, community halls and general stores but no coffee shops!  Returning WW1 soldiers were offered resettlement here on farming leases resumed from local pastoralists.  They chose place-names such as Amiens, Passchendaele, Bapaume and The Somme, recalling battlefields on the Western Front. After the next war, another group of farmers arrived and gave another set of European names, this time Italian, to some of the side roads and lanes.  These post-WW2 Italian settlers were more experienced and more successful on the land than the ex-diggers of a generation earlier, and so began the region’s “stone fruit, apple and grape” tradition.

We planned a coffee stop at Singing Lake Cafe at Robert Channon Wines  about 11km from our starting point, but when we arrived at 10.30am in drizzling rain we found that the cafe didn’t open until 11. We decided to try to stay warm by continuing to ride.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

We made a stop at about 26 km to be entertained by a deafening flock of about a hundred yellow-tailed black cockatoos feeding in trees either side of the road. (The link includes the call of a yellow-tailed black cockatoo. Listen, and then amplify it one hundred-fold to recapture our auditory experience.) As we rode along the road towards them, they continued their games, flying with fragments of pinecone in their beaks, screeching and chasing each other and splashing in puddles, but they gradually moved their activities further down the road as we approached. They were aware of us, but not about to let our presence detract too much from the fun.  Their behaviour took me back to school days; the birds were just like we kids in the playground when we spotted a teacher on patrol. Perhaps there’s something in the highland air that not only makes cyclists light-hearted, but turns cockatoos light-headed   ̶  further into the ride we saw a small flock of corellas playing a typical adolescent  game, taking it in turns to swing on a rope they’d found hanging from a tree.

At about 34km is Granite Belt Dairy which claims to offer uniquely flavoured cheeses because it is “Queensland’s highest and coldest dairy farm cheese shop” We certainly won’t argue with “coldest”. Attached to Granite Belt Dairy is the Jersey Girls Cafe, where we had a great lunch. The attentive staff offers a small range of meals based on their own dairy products and local produce, and the two dishes we selected were superb. There was a minor glitch when we asked for “skinny” coffees; the sweet waitress gently explained that the only milk on offer was full-cream, but since it was authentic (and therefore non-homogenised) she could carefully remove as much of the cream as possible! We opted for the full-fat experience and decided the taste was worth the risk to our arteries.

The author changing a flat on his Gellie (custom)

A couple of kilometres on from Jersey Girls, I had a catastrophic front tyre puncture of the “bang-whoosh” type. As I changed the tube and used the well-known five dollar note trick to protect the replacement tube from the hole in the tyre, I mused on the ingenuity of polymer scientists and concluded that their greatest gift to us cyclists was not carbon-reinforced resin, rejected in any case by us steel frame retro-grouches, but the indestructible bank note. Although of more immediate import were my thoughts on the scarcity of bike-shops on the Granite Belt and our isolation (no vehicles came past during the repair operation, despite the fact that we were close to the village of Thulimbah). I returned to this thought frequently during the remaining 20km, because the brand new replacement tube (from a well-known European manufacturer) slowly leaked all the way home. I discovered later that it was not damaged; rather it had a faulty valve.

Because the tourist drive ends at Thulimbah, the final 19km to complete the circuit back to our motel in Stanthorpe was beyond the designated Armistice Way. We followed the New England Highway, a major interstate road, but managed to avoid riding on the actual highway. Initially we followed another of the tourist drives, the Granite Belt Drive (Tourist Drive 3), which travels parallel to the highway. Granite Belt Drive was formerly the main highway and Tourist Drive 3 was known as the “Fruit Run” because of the fruit stalls along the way. The realignment of the upgraded highway and shifting agricultural emphasis led to the abandonment of the fruit stalls, but some of the buildings survive in various stages of dereliction.  After about 5km there is an underpass beneath the highway, crossing to Old Warwick Rd, which, after a couple of name changes, joins the Stanthorpe High St, completely avoiding the highway.

When we woke on the morning of our second day we abandoned our plan to ride the Highland Way that day. The weather was cold (as expected) but also seriously wet. The thought of attacking empty country roads in the rain and cold with only one spare tube remaining between us was quite off-putting   ̶  even  mounting the bikes on the car in the freezing rain was daunting enough.  So we drove back to Brisbane with every intention of returning soon.

Day 2 to follow shortly.

Graham Kimber

Graham is a riding buddy of mine whom I encouraged to write this post. I hope you enjoyed his article on cycling in this fascinating area of Queensland as much as I did.

About the author: As a child I owned and rode bikes, but between reaching car-driving age and having enough money to purchase my first car, I thought  that being seen on a bike was an admission of low financial status, so I walked everywhere and  permanently relegated the bike to the dirt floor under the verandah of the Queenslander. Thirty-five years on I had open-heart surgery and took up cycling  in an effort to regain some cardiac fitness, soon working up to the 20km round  trip to and from work. On retirement I almost gave up, but then discovered mass-participation rides, which served as a great source of training goals. I also discovered another wonderful attraction of the cycling life - the opportunity to socialise with like-minded retirees. 

I really appreciate receiving good, constructive and polite comments.

Cheers and safe riding,
Jimmy Bee


  1. Hi Jimmy Bee. I work at the Stanthorpe Visitor Information centre, and was wondering if you would object to my sharing your blog on our website? It's a lovely vignette about a day out in our area. Pleae let me know if you give me permission - my email is

  2. Loved the article. Next time you come to stanthorpe look us up. Since you wrote the article we have started a new venture in town doing bicycle hire and tours, our website is